Finding Deep Connection in the Age of Surface Relationships
by Stephanie Inkso
It’s all so easy. Swipe, like, love, share. All with the touch of a finger. We make quick judgments of current and potential friends and intimate partners based on one post or photo. And when we’re on the other side, we have the luxury of presenting our best selves to the world. Sure, these virtual interactions ensure much less risk of being rejected. But that risk is a natural component of human relationships, and by removing it, we have also robbed ourselves of the richness that deep interpersonal connection can provide.
In my work with teens and young adults over the past few years, I’ve heard over and over about the longing for a true relationship, including all the ups and downs, the good times and the bad. Clients talk about “surface” friendships, in which accomplishments are shared, but not missteps. It’s as though the online presentation of the perfect self is playing out in real life. Intimate relationships are being kept “surface,” too, but in name only. These no-strings-attached relationships have all the components of a committed dating relationship, but without the actual label. This trend is leaving many young adults hurt and confused, and unfortunately, often less likely to want to go down that path again. But with so many young adults wishing for more meaningful connections with others, what’s keeping them from doing so?
Sure, it’s truly easier to interact with others virtually instead of in reality. But I would argue that it actually makes it harder and harder over time to start using those one-on-one, in-person skills again. Think about a depiction of two older gentlemen sitting in rocking chairs passing the time of day. What in the world do they have to talk about? And how do they stand to sit in silence, should there be a lull in the conversation? I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to be comfortable in the presence of others without the distraction of technology to occupy our minds? Are we using our phones as protection from the potentially difficult feelings that are an inevitable part of true interpersonal connection?
Further, we can gain so much from the nonverbal interactions that occur when we spend time being present with others. Shared smiles and laughs. Eye contact. Facial expressions and body language that indicate being in sync with each other, or that something is wrong. These experiences all have so much more depth and meaning when experienced in person rather than through emojis. Sure, being truly present with another person opens us up to potential criticism, and even rejection. We see more in each other than the best selves that we usually present online. But the practice of being real with each other increases our comfort with the vulnerability that leads to deeper connection.
If you’re tired of surface relationships, counseling is a good place to start. You can examine the fears that hold you back, and practice being vulnerable with a trusted professional in a supportive space. One of us here at BCA would be more than happy to join you in this process. Sometimes we even offer interpersonal process groups, in which you can practice that newfound vulnerability with others who are also looking to deepen connections. Give us a call if there’s any way we can help.